Writing a boat test is an enjoyable but potentially treacherous assignment. Designers and builders tend to look at their new creations as a child and, of course, every child is perfect in a parent's eye. On the one hand, it is much too easy to become caught up in the builder's and designer's glossy philosophy of what a boat is "supposed" to be and overlook obvious shortcomings. On the other hand, after looking at new boats as objectively as possible, I tend to put a lot of credence in subjective criteria, primarily that esoteric definition of how a boat feels. In the end, I sail and evaluate boats by the seat of my pants and trust my instincts. From the moment I took the wheel of the new Sabre 402 and shot off on a lively close reach, I realized I was sailing a boat that just felt right.

The 402 fits squarely within the emerging mantra of the worldwide sailing industry: There is no longer any excuse for poor performance. The chasm between pure cruising boats and racing boats is shrinking. These new performance cruisers, which don't completely disdain tradition but are not saddled with it either, are breathing excitement into the industry.

Designer Jim Taylor was commissioned to design a boat with exceptional performance yet one that can be easily handled by a couple. Sabre wanted a boat that was foremost a cruiser but had the capability of making swift passages. "We firmly believe that a fast boat is more fun to sail and also expands any sailor's cruising grounds," said Bentley Collins, Sabre's marketing director. Innovative hull design and improved construction technology, coupled with dramatic improvements in sail-handling gear, make it possible to build fast boats that can indeed be handled by a couple, and not necessarily a young couple.

The distinctive flag-blue hull and triple-spreader rig cut a distinctive form gliding across a gentle Chesapeake chop. From abeam, the 402 appears as a nice synthesis of form and function. The waterline is relatively long at 34 feet yet the bow is not plumb and the reverse transom has a gentle lift. There is a subtle sheerline and the freeboard is moderate. The cabin trunk has recessed port lights and blends smoothly into the deck, revealing a handsome profile. Below the water, the 402 offers three different keel shapes: a shoal bulb/wing with a draft of 4 feet, 11 inches, a standard 6-foot, 3-inch fin and a deep 7-foot, 4-inch fin. Naturally the shorter the draft, the longer the section. the rudder is free-standing and there is a small, nonsupporting directional skeg trailing to the top edge.

Although Sabre went through a difficult period financially in the late 80's, the construction quality of its boats remained high and its well-earned reputation stayed intact. Today the company is healthy, witnessed by the fact that a new 402 is rolling off the line every week. Following a long line of sisterships, the 402 appears to be a very well-built boat. The hull and deck are balsa cored. On deck, marine plywood is used in lieu of balsa for high-stress areas, although solid glass might be a better solution. Below the waterline, Sabre, like most builders today, uses vinylester resin with ISO NPG gelcoat, which provides excellent protection against osmotic blisters.

The hull-and-deck joint is mechanical and chemical with through-bolts on six-inch centers. Floor stringers, bulkheads, berth faces and shelves are all laminated to the hull for structural support. The maststep is on a bridge above the bilge water. All three fin keel options are externally fastened. One interesting feature is the carbon fiber rudder post. This seems to me an unnecessary economy of weight in an area of critical stress. On the deck, the 402 has wide side decks and the nonskid pattern seems to provide good footing. the double lifelines are well supported, although typically they could be a bit taller. There are recessed inboard genoa tracks for close sheeting angles and outboard tracks on the teak toerail for off the wind work. The mainsheet traveler is forward of the companionway with what is today a common midboom sheeting arrangement. From the chrome cowl vents to the custom-cast midrail chock fitted into each toerail, the workmanship on deck is to a very high standard.

Ventilation is provided by eight Lewmar Ocean Series deck hatches with beautiful built-in wood-framed screens and eight stainless steel opening portlights. Sabre chose Lewmar winches, with 54 CST self-tailing primaries and 44CST's for halyards, mainsheet and reefing lines. the one-piece aluminum mast section built by Hall Spars is intentionally light. The spindly spar, which is 57 feet, 6 inches above the waterline, is well-supported with triple airfoil compression spreaders and is painted with white Awlgrip. While there is no disputing that a painted spar looks nice, it does represent increased maintenance down the road. The standing rigging is rod except for the headstay,which is 5/16 inch wire to accept the roller-furling gear. I like the cockpit of the 402 for several reasons. First, it has a real bridgedeck, which not only keeps green water from sloshing below but also provides, as Collins calls it, "the best seat in the house."

With the autopilot driving the boat, sitting tucked beneath the dodger on the bridgedeck with your feet dangling in the companionway, you will be dry and secure, watching the world go by while slogging to weather. Taylor resisted the urge to turn the cockpit into a picnic area and made sure that you can easily reach your feet across to the low-side seat for support when the boat is heeled. The seat backs are quite comfortable and, with the dodger down, visibility from the helm is great. There is a decent-sized locker to port but the cockpit doesn't have much storage overall. Sabre has given 402 buyers a unique option: You can choose your transom with or without a swim step. I would choose the transom step because it blends unobtrusively into the hull and is wonderfully convenient for boarding the boat from the water or the dinghy.

The interior of the 402 is well designed and executed. Sabre's joinery work is simply outstanding and the light teak interior is warm and friendly. The owner's cabin is forward and features a long, island berth taking the place of the standard V-berth. There are comfortable seats to either side of the berth and a vanity with a Corian counter top. Storage is found in three large drawers under the bunk and a good-sized hanging locker. Working aft, you come to the saloon, which features a centerline table with large drop leaves. Typical of today's boats, the interior has been expanded as far as possible abeam, reducing storage space, although there are usable lockers above the berth.

Aft to starboard is a forward-facing nav station, with good fiddle edges to actually keep charts in place. There is an impressive electrical panel above the chart table and opposite is a lovely U-shaped galley. The galley includes a three-burner propane stove, a double stainless steel sink, a huge icebox and ample counter and storage space. One of the best features of the interior is that there is only one head. Let's face it, the 402 is a two-couple boat by design, and just how many heads do four people need? The large head is aft of the nav station and has a separate shower stall, which is much more useful than another small head crammed into the V-berth area. the head is also accessed through the aft cabin, which is to port, aft of the galley.

Tucked beneath the cockpit, this is truly an aft cabin, not an overgrown quarter berth. The berth runs fore and aft, which is much better than athwartships, and is quite comfortable. There is a hanging locker and storage under the berth. And because the engine is located amidships, the aft cabin is actually habitable while under power. A Westerbeke 50 four-cylinder diesel pushes the 402 along at 7-plus knots. The engine is easily accessible for maintenance as it lies beneath the galley sink compartment. Access to the stuffing box is excellent, although I am not crazy about its mechanical shaft seal. The standard prop is an 18 by 16 two bladed, which incorporates a bronze strut.

The 50-gallon fuel tank is aluminum and provides the 402 with a realistic powering range of about 400 miles. During the test sail, we powered only briefly, but the engine was quiet with no obvious vibration. The wind was steady at 10 knots true as I took the helm. We eased sheets and sailed on a close reach toward Kent Narrows on the other side of the bay. The more I sailed the boat the more I realized my first impression was accurate: The boat felt right. the steering was tight; the angles of the cockpit seemed just right; the sail controls were easily reached and adjusted.

The 402 is a boat meant for seat-of-the-pants sailing because it is easy to sense her moods. As we brought the boat through the wind and put her through her paces, I found that the Sabre 402 is a sailor's boat. There are no excuses and few compromises. She is simply a pleasure to sail. Unfortunately, we didn't have the conditions to find out if she met her design criteria of exhilarating performance. But in a modest breeze, she certainly demonstrated sweet sailing characteristics. Off the wind, we managed to keep the boat moving above 5 knots even as the apparent wind dropped to less than 7 knots. Sailing on the wind, the 402 was quite close-winded and we tacked through 90 degrees without breaking a sweat. The new Sabre 402 is a fine example of the type of high-quality boats American builders are capable of producing.

CLICK HERE TO VIEW SABRE 402 SAILBOATS FOR SALE IN CALIFORNIA

This review/article originally appeared in Sailing Magazine, and is written by John Kretschmer. For more great sailboat reviews, visit their website at: www.sailingmagazine.net

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